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Jail unlikely for Tocchet in sports gambling-ring case

8/17/2007 - NHL

TRENTON, N.J. -- Rick Tocchet will likely walk away without
jail time when he's sentenced for running an illegal sports
gambling ring, despite international headlines linking the case to
professional hockey's biggest star.


Tocchet could get up to five years in state prison Friday for
promoting gambling and conspiracy, charges to which he pleaded
guilty in May.


But there is a presumption against incarceration for
first-time offenders who plead guilty to third- or fourth-degree
crimes, which means the retired Philadelphia Flyer is unlikely to
serve any time for his crimes, said Rachel Goemaat, a spokeswoman
for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the
case.


Under terms of Tocchet's plea deal, the state made no sentencing
recommendation, leaving it to the discretion of the court. Tocchet
was due to appear at 9 a.m. Friday before Burlington County
Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith Jr. in Mount Holly.


An assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes under Wayne Gretzky, Tocchet partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man
in a sports betting venture they ran for five years. He was placed
on indefinite leave from his job after he was charged.


James Harney, the trooper who has since been forced to give up
his badge, was sentenced earlier this month to five years in
prison. The other man, James Ulmer, has not yet been sentenced.


The case became one of the biggest stories in hockey when the men were charged in
February 2006 because authorities said
several of the bettors were people connected to the game. The only
name that was ever revealed among them was Janet Jones Gretzky, the
wife of legend Wayne Gretzky, and authorities said early on that
neither she nor other bettors would be charged.


The case remained international news throughout the 2006 winter
Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Gretzky coached team Canada.


In the investigation that followed, authorities and hockey
officials have said there's no evidence of betting on hockey.


But the betting was heavy on other sports. In the 40 days
that led up to the charges, the ring handled $1.7 million in bets,
including college football bowl games and the Super Bowl.


The business was lucrative for Harney while it lasted. When he
was arrested, police took 32 watches and nine televisions from his
home, and he forfeited his home, his interest in his wife's home
and cash.


Harney met Tocchet in the 1990s, when Tocchet was playing for
the Philadelphia Flyers and Harney tended bar at a hotel frequented
by athletes. After retiring in 2002, Tocchet became Gretzky's top
assistant coach with the Coyotes.